Friday, December 23, 2011

Angel Cookies

Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart.  Psalm 32:11

I couldn’t have asked for more enthusiastic participants.  After printing the recipe for the angel cookies a couple of weeks ago, I realized it was high time my children got going on it.  It is, after all, nearly Christmas.  I bought the cookie dough and chilled it, bought some decorative sprinkles to go along with the sugar, dyed in bright colors, we already had in the cabinet.  We set to work.

I am always nervous about giving my children new cooking projects to try.  Their interest in such activities, along with their willingness to sit still for them, varies with the day.  I’m never certain if they will like them or not.  Cookies and other sweets, however, do have a leg up, and on this day my children happily took on their new assignment.

I did the cookie slicing, but let them cut most of the shapes (with a table knife).  I coaxed them to put the shapes into the right places to make an angel, which they did with a little help.  Then came the decorating!  The sprinkly stars were nice, and the other decorations were acceptable, but the colored sugar was the best!  They used it.  A LOT of it!  Not just a sprinkling to add a certain hue.  Not even a layer of sugar to change the color entirely.  I’m talking about a pile of sugar!  Empty the bottle on one cookie kind of decorating!

Their enthusiasm was touching.  It somehow seemed profound, whimsical , a bit wasteful yet beautiful all at once.  New bottles of green and red sugar were used up completely.  Possibly – really – on a single cookie.  I’m all for extravagance, but I was out of my league trying to figure out just what was the message of this over indulgence.

Heaven knows, most of us who will be reading this post have more than enough.  We struggle not to be wasteful when we have grown up in a culture that makes disposable everything; when we have been taught that more than we need is just enough.  We have more than enough in our closets, in our pantry, in our bank accounts, in the square footage of our homes.  It may not feel like that on any given day, but we have so much more than we need.  Learning what makes enough is probably a good lesson for all of us.

But there was something greater than mere squandering in my children’s over-sugaring of their cookies.  Their exuberance seemed less wasteful than adulatory.  Now, if you were to ask them, of course, they couldn’t have begun to tell you that their over-enthusiasm with the sugar was their own method of worship.  They couldn’t have said that they were reflecting God’s extravagant grace, poured out in abundance on our humble lives.  Probably not a conscious thought of that went through their heads.  But I believe in some mystical way, through the quiet, sneaky act of the Holy Spirit, it was true.

My children’s cookie decorating was praise; an act of joyful worship and thanksgiving to the God who made such celebrations possible.  Christ is coming, as a small child, more helpless and mute than even my children.   His birth will be heralded by angels, mortals, ox and lamb.  What could be a greater response to that joyous event than to decorate angel wings?

May you worship in this season!  Whether your method of praise is cooking, singing, preaching or praying, may you go over the top in your enthusiasm, and known an abundance of joy.

Blessed eating!

Since I have already shared the “recipe” for angel cookies, here is another family favorite; this time from the other side of the family!  Not the Basses, but the Simmons.

Orange-Ginger Cookies (Spicy Refrigerator Cookies)
Cream:  1 c. butter
                1 ½ c. sugar
Add:      1 egg
                2 tbsp. light corn syrup
Beat well.
Sift together:     3 c. sifted flower
                                2 tsp. soda
                                2 tsp. cinnamon
                                2 tsp. ginger
                                ½ tsp. cloves
Mix dry ingredients into creamed mixture along with 1 tbsp. grated orange peel.  Shape into two 9 in. rolls about 2 in. across.  Wrap in wax paper and chill several hours or overnight.  Slice in 1/8 inch slices and place on ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake @ 400o.  Makes about 8 dozen.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Why I Don’t Mind Being Wished a “Happy Holiday”

So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, ‘Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.’  Nehemiah 8:11

There is a lot of discussion nowadays about this word that is floating around: holiday.  As we receive “happy holiday” wishes and observe the increased presence of “holiday” festivities, there is concern that this word is being used in the place of Christmas and that we as a culture run the risk of forgetting the savior whose birth is the reason we celebrate Christmas.  I have even known some folks who will “correct” store greeters and Salvation Army bell ringers, directing them to say ‘Merry Christmas,’ because they feel so strongly that this other more general word is an affront.

I can sympathize with their concern, but I don’t necessarily share it.  Being told “Happy Holidays” is a wish that I welcome as much as “Merry Christmas.”  Here is why.

                1. Christmas is a holiday.  I don’t mean to state the obvious, but by wishing me a happy holiday, a greeter or receptionist is not failing to wish me a merry Christmas.  They are wishing me joy on whatever day I consider to be sacred, for whatever reason is meaningful to me.  That seems to me to be a rather gracious thing, particularly since there are other sacred days celebrated this time of year.  This general wish is a courteous one, presuming that they care at all what they are saying to me which . . .

                2.  . . .they may very well not.  The big box Christmas greeters will say what their managers tell them to.  This decision will be motivated by the good of the business; what will cause the greatest inflow of cash.  Because I consider my day to be sacred, I’m not vehement that it be named by someone who has little concern for either the actual event or the miraculous story behind it.   It is of little consequence, therefore, if a retail establishments speak the name of my holiday when their religion (that is, their organizing principle and motivation) is profit.  Now, if I could make the store greeter care about The Story, I would greatly prefer to do that.  Because . . .

3.  . . . I am deeply interested in helping others to know the miraculous love offered in Jesus Christ.  I have no interest, however, in pressuring someone – particularly a non-believer – to pay lip service to my holiday.  If they are not a believer, they are not likely to become one by speaking the name of Christmas.  Forcing the issue may even be counterproductive to my purpose of telling convincingly God’s story of grace.

4.  Finally, while this is only a small concern, I am saddened by the cold shoulder we have given the word “holiday.”  Because this is the particular word that has been used in the generic wish for our happiness, it has also received the bulk of our frustration.  “Holiday” has almost become the enemy, the anti-Christmas if you will.  But that is not a fair reflection of the word.  Holiday means “holy day.”  It speaks to the most sacred times in our lives and our most meaningful celebrations.  “Holiday” is a beautiful word with a profound meaning and one that I don’t want to give up. 

For those of us who claim Jesus as savior, the Christmas story is our story.  It is our holy day.  We who believe are the ones who are called to tell it.  If we are to keep the Christ in Christmas, then it needs to be done by those who love Jesus and have been transformed by the story we tell.  This is important because our telling of the story must not be just in our words, but in our hearts and actions.  Do our lives reflect the Christmas story?  When we use the title of this holy day, will people actually see in us all that it is about?  I hope so.  I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the holiday!

Blessed eating!

I hope the recipe below will help you to enjoy this holy season!

Spice Tea
½ cup tea leaves                               2 cups sugar
1 tsp. each: nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, allspice
4 cups cold water                             10-12 cups boiling water
1 cup orange juice                           1 cup lemon juice
1 cup pineapple juice
Put sugar and 4 cups cold water in boiler, let simmer 5 minutes.  Tie tea, spices in bag.  Place in boiler of water and sugar, let simmer 10 minutes.  Now add 10-12 cups boiling water, 1 cup orange juice, 1 cup lemon juice, 1 cup pineapple juice.  Let this steep 5 minutes.  Can be reheated as often as needed.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Greetings from the Johnson-Pierson Family, 2011

Greetings and Merry Christmas!
For the second year¸ we in the Johnson Pierson family will use electronic media rather than paper to send our Christmas greetings to you.  They are no less heartfelt.  May you experience this holy season with joy! 

2011 been a great year for the Johnson Pierson Family.  Though we have a difficulty believing it, Todd and I and the kids are all another year older.  We have seen a lot of changes and a lot of fun activity.  Most of all, this year has helped us remember the many reasons we have to be grateful and the many ways we are blessed!

Our year began on a sad note.  We buried my grandmother, Eunice Read Simmons, in Vicksburg, Mississippi.  Grandma was a tremendous influence in my early faith life.  She invited me to her church when I was a teenager and would faithfully pick me up and drive me there each Sunday.  It is hard to believe it has been a nearly year since her funeral, but then it is hard to believe she is gone.  I miss her.

Both Vivian and Roland and doing great.  They both have the same wonderful teachers as last year.  Both are making great progress.  Vivian was even given the Principal Pal award at her school this year.

Vivian is still collecting princesses and fairies.  She should probably go into decorating as often as she rearranges her room.  Roland is still drawn toward any toy with wheels, especially trains.  He is also enjoying a new passion:  Angry Birds.  Once their mom and dad invested in smart phones, they joined the ranks of many American children who are more tech savvy than their parents.

We enjoyed some fun travels this year.  We made what we want to be our annual trip to Navarre Beach and to The Singing.  (Read more about The Singing here and here if you haven’t heard of it.)  While we were there, we enjoyed being with family and seeing old friends.  We visited Disney World twice this year.  Yes, twice!  On one occasion, we experienced it from a tent while staying on the Disney campgrounds.  During our travels, we even meandered through some back roads and visited some small towns and attractions around the southeast.  Each one was a treasure.  They included Enterprise and Dothan, Alabama; the Cathedral Caverns in Woodville, Alabama; and after years of just driving through it, we finally spend some time in historic Rome, Georgia.

Todd has been staying busy working in many important ways.  He has been our family’s travel agent and trip planner as we have trekked around the country.  In 2012, Todd will begin an important new venture; he will lead our UMYF (United Methodist Youth Fellowship) program and has already begun planning for it.  As always, he has put herculean effort into getting our kids where they need to be and helping them to grow.

My work has changed over the 2011. As the year began, I was working with Church Development.  I had the blessing of leading programs at both North Forsyth UMC and Sacred Tapestry.  What a great experience!  I miss you guys!  In June, I was blessed to be appointed as senior pastor to Christ United Methodist Church.  My experience here has been wonderful. I couldn’t imagine a better place to be appointed or a more loving and gifted congregation to serve.  Todd, Vivian, Roland and I have received an exceptionally warm welcome.  The kids have thrived in our wonderful children’s program here.  Roland even worked up the courage to practice a little with the children’s choir.  I have preached, taught, organized and guided but, as in all the service that we offer to our God, I have received much more than I have given.

As you can see, I’m still writing.  I still send articles to the magazine that used to be Around About Cumming, but in 2012 will be My Forsyth.  I am still keeping up with my blog. My new schedule keeps me away from the kitchen more than I would like, but I am still cooking and writing fervently.  I still love putting thoughts into words, and transforming ingredients into meals.  I still love feeding others.  Even if I can’t keep up the pace I used to, I’m not quitting! 

We are a family very blessed by the graciousness of God and the love of our friends.  That we can count you among those friends is one of the greatest blessings!  Thank you for being part of our lives.  May you have a wonderful Christmas and a blessed new year!


The Johnson Pierson Family
Todd, Nancy, Vivian and Roland

I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people; to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.

Luke 2:10-12

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Why I'll Be At Church On Christmas

This piece was originally written for my church newsletter, but it bears repeating.

Christmas falls on a Sunday this year. That doesn’t happen very often. Roughly every few years, varying quite a bit due to leap years, the holiday will fall on a day that we will normally go to church. This leaves us with a decision to make.

Christmas is traditionally a time we spend with families. The better part of the day is spent in pajamas that is until we get dressed to go to Grandma’s house. We empty the stockings and open the gifts under the tree. We turn on our video cameras or smart phones to capture the expressions on little faces as the children open their presents. We enjoy a leisurely breakfast together, then later a feast for dinner. All the while playing Christmas carols from the iPod.

Spending time at church can really mess with these plans. But it isn’t going to stop me. I’m going to be here singing, praying and preaching, and I’ll tell you why (and it isn’t because I’m the pastor and I have to):

  • Every Sunday, we are called to give an hour or three from the entire week to come to church. Here, we worship and express our gratitude to the God who made us. This is our opportunity to draw nearer to God, to rest, to grow. In this time we celebrate the abundance we enjoy and the beautiful world in which we are permitted live. Even better, we do this in fellowship with a whole community of believers. In other words, I hope we would be here anyway.
  • You might have neighbors who don’t fully know the reason for the season. They might know something of the story, but not why it matters. Your car pulling out of the driveway, or into the church parking lot, could be a witness to those who need to know the very real hope that lies behind the glitter of the season.
  • Most obvious, Christmas is Jesus’s birthday – not ours, not even Grandma’s. We come to church on every Sunday to worship the God who gave us life, and who was gracious enough to send a savior. I don’t usually stay home from church on Easter. Why would Jesus’ birthday celebration be a reason not to worship?

So, I’ll be in church on Christmas Day and I hope you will too. In fact, I fully expect to see the hordes that surged into the retail outlets on Black Friday. Surely Jesus means more to Christmas than a sale on electronics at Walmart.

We have great services planned on both Christmas Eve and Christmas . They will tell again the Christmas story and remind us of the reason for our joy. I look forward to seeing you there.

Blessings, Rev. Nancy

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Visit with Reindeer (and Santa Claus)

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.      Luke 2:7

When our family goes somewhere we really like, I write about it.  Today, we visited the Amicalola Deer Park in Dawsonville.  A lovely place in the north Georgia mountains, not far from the state park and an easy drive from Atlanta.

Our visit was a district clergy event, so many families from the Atlanta Roswell area were there.  The day included animal feeding and patting, a visit with Santa, his wife, elves and other family, plus lunch and a great deal of hospitality.  It was wonderful to receive such a warm welcome and the staff bent over backward to be friendly and ensure we had a good time.

The only thing that didn’t cooperate was the temperature.  Though it was a beautiful day, we stepped out of the car and found it to be a lot colder than we had expected.  The kids had adequate coats, but no gloves.  I thought wistfully of the scarf that I almost decided to wear.  But we didn’t have much time to think about the cold.  There were big, white bear-like dogs (Great Pyrenees?) expecting attention and keeping us entertained until we climbed aboard a Bobcat-pulled trailer that took us to even more critters.
Soon, we were offering corn by hand to an unusual variety of species.  Sometimes we had to reach through a protective fence, sometime not.  Our kids didn’t warm to the activity immediately.  These were some pretty strange characters.  Behind the fence were deer, emu, and pigs.  Wandering the world freely alongside us were llama and goats.  All of them could be fed by hand, but their noses were dirty from foraging the ground which made their breakfast a messy undertaking.  Gradually, however, the kids got used to our new relationship with members of the natural world.  And we got used to what they were and weren’t willing to do.  By the time we tossed corn to reindeer from the “sleigh,” everyone was happy.

Faith is a lifetime of getting “used to.”  Becoming accustomed to things we don’t expect or prefer.  This message is shouted through the Christmas story.  Jesus was the savior like no one expected; humble, from a poor family in a poor town with more than a hint of scandal surrounding his birth.  While I love the sweet nostalgia of our traditional celebrations of the Christmas story, we must make ourselves accustomed to the grittiness of the actual details.  While we sing songs of little towns and starry nights, we also remember that those nights were cold and the towns dusty.  And the two – who became three – in the chilly stable were not strangers to sadness and hardship.
Our Christian lives today are also a balance.  We take the joy and personal peace gained from faith in Jesus Christ the risen savior, but get used to the reality that these things are absent in much of our world.  We are comforted by the presence of God, but called to be in the uncomfortable presence of people disconcertingly different from ourselves.  We celebrate the knowledge that “He’s got the Whole World in his Hands,” but we acknowledge that the needs of the world are often handed right back to us and we may not be able to meet them without significant personal sacrifice.  We might get our hands literally dirty or have to contend with some pretty strange characters.
This isn’t going to change.  We may as well breathe deeply and get used to it.  All of the coarseness and dirt is the reality of our world.  If we try to avoid it we will live partial lives, disconnected from the creation that belongs to God.  Me, I’ll take the grime, as long as it arrives part and parcel with the gift of life in abundance.

Blessed eating!

The recipe below is a repeat, but suitable for the day.

Reindeer Cookies
Peanut Butter Cookie recipe            small pretzel twists
M&M’s                                                 red gumdrops

Divide cookies out as directed but shape into a soft triangle shape. Place pretzel twist at top on two corners for antlers. Place a gumdrop on other corner for nose, and two M&M’s on cookie for eyes. Bake as directed. (You can also use red peanut M&M’s for the nose.) – Laura Taylor

Saturday, November 26, 2011


‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’  Luke 2:14


Now, I realize that our media can be driven by the sensational.  I understand that the outlandish will make a far better story than the ordinary.  But even realizing that it will be the most extreme stories of Black Friday that will make the news, I am stunned by what I have seen and heard. 

You have probably heard too.  On Friday, November 26 – a.k.a.  Black Friday – shoppers crowded into stores as soon as the doors were opened.  Many had been camping outside for hours if not days, ready to push, elbow, scratch and heaven knows what else in order to score a great deal on, I presume, Christmas presents.  One woman used pepper spray in order to get an advantage on the crowd.   There are stories of stampedes and even shootings.  One grandfather was arrested for shoplifting after he had put an item he intended to purchase in his pocket.  He had needed his hands free in order to help his grandson off the floor where he had fallen, for fear he would be trampled.

Even in the tamest places, people still feverishly battled their way to what must have seemed like really good deals.  While I am certain the stories that make the news are the most extreme, hearing them makes me feel almost as if I have been trampled by the Black Friday crowd.  The ethos is one of violence, giving us a new reason to call it Black Friday.  It is a dark day indeed.

If we have to lose our humanity in order to gain a cheaper X-box, is it worth it?  If we have to risk injury – or worse, injuring others – in an effort to buy a smart phone at a reduced price, is that cost not already too high?  Is it worth contributing to this kind of chaos, in the name of Christmas, in order to buy a flat screen TV for a loved one?

I realize that some people depend on the deep price reductions of Black Friday in order to purchase items they might not otherwise be able to buy at all.  Not everyone has the budget to make expensive electronics a part of their regular spending.  But if purchasing an item on sale forces you to be a part of this lunacy, then – and here is a really radical notion – don’t buy it!  No one needs a Nintendo DS that badly!  I’ve heard tell there was once a time when no one owned a Kindle or a Nook.  I believe, even in those primitive times, satisfaction could still be gained from life.

I realize I am ranting more than a bit here, but I am just stunned by the state of things that would cause otherwise good people to behave in this senseless way.  And now the mayhem gets started on a day that is set aside for giving thanks.

The biggest question that is running through my mind is: 

Was Jesus born for this?

Well, actually, the answer is yes.  Jesus came to us in the midst of our insanity in order to save us from it.  And maybe it is no surprise, given our sad human condition, that we let this precious birth be another excuse for more mayhem.  But if this is what Jesus’ birthday has come to mean, then we have bigger problems than big box greeters wishing us Happy Holidays rather than Merry Christmas. 

It is not enough to say “Keep the Christ in Christmas.”  Christ isn’t in Christmas.  Christ is Christmas!  There is no other holiday – holy day – outside of the celebration of our savior coming into the world.  If exchanging gifts helps you to honor the occasion, terrific!  If camping outside stores is your thing, more power to you.  But if, for a moment, you are tempted to forget the humanity of your fellow recipients of the saving grace ushered in by this season, forget it!

In considering a recipe to include for this post, I thought about vodka tonic or something similar, just to calm us all down.  Instead, I’m including a traditional “recipe” from my family that helps to remind us that on December 25, we celebrate a miraculous birth – one that was heralded by angels.

May God bless you as you celebrate the season.

Angel Cookies
1 roll sugar cookie dough
Cookie decorations

Refrigerate the cookie dough until just before using.  It is helpful if the roll is firm.

Make ½ inch slices in the cookie dough.  Make 2 diagonal cuts in each slice, starting at the top point then going to the left and the right.  Separate the smaller pieces away from the main body.  This makes the robe and the wings of the angel. 

Cut another slice into fourths.  Roll each piece into a small ball.  Each one will be an angel head.

Assemble wings, robe and head, then decorate as desired.  Cook according to package instructions.   

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name.
                                Psalm 100:4

Today, our Christmas tree went up.  It is a tradition in our family that this happens during the Thanksgiving holiday.  This small act of decoration ushers in the season.  Thanksgiving seems to open the door to the bigger and more celebrated Christmastime.

But it isn’t a good idea to pass through too quickly.  Thanksgiving deserves for us to pause for a moment.  Experience fully the gifts that this day brings, though they don’t come wrapped in shiny paper.  I hope it goes without saying, but it is good to give thanks.

There is much to be thankful for.  We give thanks for the year that is past and for all that it brought to us, blessings and challenges.  We express gratitude for the lovely, spirit-filled season that is to come.  Most of all, we give thanks for the purpose for that season; for the baby whose appearance in the world gave us the greatest reason of all to celebrate.

My personal thanksgiving list is long.  I am grateful for family, friends and church.  For having plenty in the way of food and shelter.  I am deeply thankful for traditions, especially the ones that come around this time of year; the big ones we all share as well the personal ones.  They offer a sense of belonging, of finding my place in our unfathomable universe.  I am profoundly grateful for Grace, for second chances – and third and fourth ones as well.  I am thankful for the spirit that allows us to grow, to be become better, to draw closer to God.  These are indeed gifts.

I am grateful for you.  Yes, you.  That you spend some of your valuable time reading the words that I post here is a gift beyond measure.  I pray that Grace will abound in your heart in the form of gratitude this season.

Making a list is a great thing.  It reminds us to be thankful when we all too easily forget.  The longer I practice it, though, the more I realize that gratitude is as much a necessity as breathing, and not just for the items in my inventory.  In gratefulness, we are reminded that difficulty is fleeting; that situations can change.  The good ultimately lasts if we make friends with it and invite it to stick around.  When we remember all that is good, the good becomes a part of who we are and it lingers through each day.  That is a blessed way to live.

May you enjoy the blessings of gratitude this Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.                Proverbs 3:5-6

Trust is an active verb.  I don’t mean this in the grammatical sense of active versus passive.  I mean that it requires action on the part of the trust-er.  Here’s how I found out.

My new experiment this year was canning.  Every year, I try to do something in the realm of food that I haven’t done before.  I have experimented with a lot of different ways to preserve food; freezing and drying it to keep it around.  Canning was something that I had wanted to try, had been meaning to try, until I finally had a reason to actually purchase the equipment and get started. To be honest I was more than a little intimidated. 

There is a lot of risk in canning (or so it appears to me).  It seems rather perilous to let food sit on a shelf with no refrigeration, only to eat it heaven knows how far down the road!  I balk at the idea that nothing more than my own paltry skill might stand between my family and heaven knows what bacteria or spore.  Still, I have heard that there are people in the world who have actually done this thing called canning.  They actually preserved food and did it safely!  In fact, many people have!  My own ancestors did this and our family line has made it to the present day. 

So I worked up the courage.  I even decided that if all went well, some of the preserved food might make good Christmas presents.  Last year, you may remember, I spent two weeks in a cheese marathon, making various kinds of cheddar to give away.  This year, it will be chutney, sauce and relish.  I found the recipe for all three in Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  A printable copy can be found here, though I’ll also print it below.  I made this recipe last year and stored it in the freezer.  Our family really loves it, so it seemed like a good idea to share.

But sharing will only come after testing.  Here is where the trust comes in.  I have no intention of giving any of these pretty little jars away without first examining and tasting some samples.  If there is something unfortunate in them, I want to be the one to find that out, not my kids’ Sunday School teachers.  So testing season has begun.

I open the jars cautiously.  Look and smell carefully.  So far so good.  But the inevitable moment comes when the contents of the jar have to land on my tongue.  For someone who likes to try new things, I can be remarkably squeamish and whiney.  Trust was required.  Action had to be taken in order to move forward. 

Faith is a sweet thing to talk about.  Living it is much more gritty.  There are times when we have to step past the mere words of belief and take on the hazardous work that leads to conviction.  We climb out on that rickety limb or step out in the dark to see if the road really will rise to meet us.  We risk dirt under nails, abrasions on skin, icky things on the tongue.  We may be required to put literal skin in the game, or possibly just our easily bruised hopes.  

But our trust in God is inevitably rewarded.  When we take that dangerous step, we find more than solid ground beneath our boots.  We gain a new acre of firm foundation in a world that has just expanded.  We acquire something sturdy, a place where we can stand. 

My chutney is fine.  So is the tomato sauce, and even the plums that I canned as a practice round.  Everything that was cooked and put in the glass jars has remained food without transforming into biology research.  We haven’t once had to rush to the emergency room.  It even tasted pretty good.   BBQ relish and Sweet and Sour Sauce are still to come, but I am feeling better and better about Christmas. 

These gifts may not be gold, frankincense or myrrh, but I hope they share the love of Christ by filling a few stomachs and a few hearts. 

Blessed eating!



Thanks to Janet Chadwick,
The Busy Person’s Guide to Preserving Food

If you don’t have a garden, you can stock up on tomatoes, peaches, apples and onions at the end of summer, when your farmers’ market will have these at the year’s best quality and price. Then, schedule a whole afternoon and a friend for this interesting project that gives you three different, delicious products to eat all winter. 

Canning jars and lids: 14 pint jars, 7 half-pint jars 

Start with a very large, heavy kettle. You will be adding different ingredients and canning different sauces as you go.  

4 quarts tomato puree
24 large apples
7 cups chopped onions
2 quarts cider vinegar
6 cups sugar
2/3 cup salt
3 tsp. ground cloves
3 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. red pepper
2 tsp. mustard

Puree tomatoes; core and coarsely chop apples; coarsely chop onions. Combine in large pot along with the vinegar, sugar and seasonings. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 2 hours or until thick. Meanwhile, preheat water in a canner bath and sterilize jars and lids (in boiling water or dishwasher) and keep them hot until use. Fill 7 pint jars with some of the thickened Barbecue Relish, leaving ½ inch headspace in each jar. Put filled jars in canner with lids screwed on tightly and boil for ten minutes. Remove and cool.

2 quarts sliced peaches
6 cups sugar
½ cup water
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. Tabasco sauce

In a separate pan, cook peaches and water for 10 minutes, until soft. Add sugar and bring slowly to boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Boil until thick (15 min.), stirring to prevent scorching.

Add peach mixture to the remaining tomato mixture in the kettle and bring back up to a boil to make Sweet and Sour Sauce. Fill 7 pint jars leaving ½ inch headspace, boil in canner for ten minutes. Remove and cool.

1 cup raisins
1 cup walnuts

Add these to the kettle, mix well and bring it back to a boil to make Chutney. Fill 7 ½-pint jars leaving ½ inch headspace. Boil in canner for ten minutes. Remove.

As all the jars cool, make sure the jar lids pop their seals by creating a vacuum as contents cool. You’ll hear them go “ping.” To double check, after they’re entirely cooled, push down on each lid’s center – it should feel firmly sucked down, not loose. (If a jar didn’t seal, refrigerate and use the contents soon.) The ring portion of the lid can be removed before storing; when processed properly, the dome lids will stay securely sealed until you open the jar with a can opener. 

Label each product before you forget what’s what, and share with the friend who helped. The Barbeque Relish is great on broiled or grilled fish or chicken. The Sweet and Sour Sauce gives an Asian flavor to rice dishes. Chutney can perk up anything.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Who has gone up to heaven and come down? Whose hands have gathered up the wind?    Proverb 30:4

I finally found the book I had been looking for.  I supposed it’s no surprise that I found it at Disney World, the ultimate granter of wishes.  Feed Our Small World: A Cookbook for Kids has recipes that children are not only meant to enjoy, but to prepare.  For ages, I have looked for this kind of book, with cooking ideas made for children’s participation.  The recipes in Feed Our Small World are heavy on measuring and mixing, light on sharp objects.  Its language is directed toward the children, though it encourages them to get help from adults where appropriate.  The book is published in partnership with FEED Projects, whose mission is to help feed the world.

We have thus far made Sensational Sesame-Soy Noodles and Buttery Shortbread.  The noodles were easy.  I cooked the pasta and chopped the veggies, then let the kids stir them together.  Hand over hand, we measured the sesame oil, the rice vinegar, the honey, and soy sauce.  I was pleased that they found it interesting and were willing to stick around for more.

The Buttery Shortbread (a piece of which I just finished chewing) was even more fun because it required machinery.  The kids helped pour the ingredients – butter, cocoa, confectioners’ sugar and flour – into the mixer.  We watched, mesmerized, as the beater spun round and round, and each element became part of the chocolatey, buttery whole.  When the dough was well mixed, the kids helped as we rolled it up in waxed paper and put it in the refrigerator to cool overnight.

As eager and enthusiastic as I may be, it isn’t always easy to involve my children in cooking.  They have limited attention spans (as does their mother) and they don’t easily take to new things.  But I don’t give up, and this time around, they stuck with it.  From the measuring to the wrapping to the refrigeration, they hung around.  I’m the proud and sentimental parent.  I love watching them take to this new adventure.  Their laughter will make me melt as they splash soy sauce over noodles.  I adore their small hands as they work the dough and earnestly try to roll it up for chilling.  Watching them pour the oil is almost sacramental.

As I watch these little hands at work, I think about all that they can’t do, and all that they can.  Their limitations will yoke them throughout their lives; this is a reality that can only be accepted.  But like everyone’s realities, theirs will also include gifts which remain uniquely their own.  These gifts will make them who they are, and will bring depth and meaning to their lives and to those around them.  I suppose we are all given at birth a similar mixed bag of blessing.  What they do with it will not be in my hands, but theirs.

My own hands have more years behind them than I like to count.  They have been given – and have taken – plenty of opportunities for both good and iniquity.  These hands have written essays, played the piano, dug in the dirt, twirled a flag in a marching band, even thrown a few punches during my brief American Karate days.  Have they done enough?  Will their contribution be all that it was meant to be when their deep lines are finally measured?

There is only One who can know that: the God who gives us hands to work.  Work is what we do.  We show up in the field every day and curl our fingers around the plow.  The Spirit will have to pull and direct.  I didn’t always know this.  I used to sit, hands immobile over the keyboard, trying to wring out the next word in an overwrought sermon.  I remember helplessly fingering the soil around an ailing tomato plant, skeptical of my meager attempts to keep it alive.  I have spent too much time wondering if my efforts would be good enough.  Now I quit wringing these hands and simply put them back to the task.  I have offered my best, and continue to do so in each moment.  That best may soar to great heights or just as likely fall flat.  Either way, it is mine.  Really, it is God’s.  What will come from the work of my hands lies ultimately in those of the divine.  I am happy to hand it over.

However deeply I long to know that my hands, or those of my children, will be of a use I feel good about, I will be satisfied to know that they will be of use at all.  They just work.  The rest belongs to God.